Lebanon in the Forks Presbyterian Cemetery

Region: Downtown
2390 Asbury Road
Knoxville, TN 37915



Presbyterians established the first churches in the area. Rev. Samuel Carrick (1760-1809) held the first service at Forks of the River and later founded First Presbyterian Church in downtown Knoxville. In 1794 he was the principal founder, first president, and only professor of what eventually became Blount College. Although he didn't live to see that institution become anything other than a very small, struggling school, it evolved into the something bigger, and today Carrick is regarded as the founder of the University of Tennessee. He lived in this neighborhood and established his first “seminary” here.

The first church Carrick founded, Lebanon-in-the-Forks Presbyterian was located at the confluence of Holston and French Broad Rivers. Its name combines a biblical allusion and a major geographical presence. A stone chapel built on this spot in the early 1790s may have been the first church of any kind in Knox County. A 1903 frame church replaced the original, but burned down in 1981 and was never rebuilt. A memorial pavilion constructed with the remnant church columns preserves the old church bell.

The original churchyard survives and includes the oldest legible graves in Knox County. The very oldest is that of Elizabeth Carrick, Rev. Samuel Carrick's wife, who died in 1793. Her death was especially untimely, in that it arrived during what was probably Knoxville's biggest threat before the Civil War: a siege by the warring Chickamaugan tribes, approaching from the west. The men of Knoxville, including her husband, were away dealing with that threat by way of an elaborate ruse that suggested Knoxville was better defended than it was. Meanwhile, here on the east side of town, without the help of men, women attended to Elizabeth Carrick's burial. With the help of slaves, they poled her funeral raft across the Holston. Her headstone describes her as the Consort of Samuel Carrick.

Also buried here is Tennessee's first formal historian, J.G.M. Ramsey (1797-1884), physician and author of the multi-volume history known as Ramsey's Annals (1853). Ramsey once lived in the Forks, in a house built on what is called the Brakebill Indian mound, where Rev. Carrick and the area settlers held their first service at the arbor they improvised there. J.G.M. Ramsey was later on hand to greet the first steamboat ever to make it past the Tennessee River's notoriously treacherous shoals to arrive in East Tennessee. The sternwheeler Atlas arrived at this peninsula in 1828, to collect a cash prize. It was the beginning of a limited but significant riverboat trade for the Knoxville area. Today the approximate site of its landing is the area's busiest industrial river barge wharf.

J.G.M. Ramsey was one of Knoxville's most outspoken secessionists. His home, "Mecklenburg," including Ramsey’s famous library and historical collection, was burned, presumably by rogue Unionists in 1863. Ramsey later retired to a house in downtown Knoxville when he returned from refuge elsewhere after the war.

Asbury Road is just one of several features named for Bishop Francis Asbury (1745-1816), who significantly visited the Forks area in 1800, helping to establish the Methodist church in the region during the early part of the national Great Awakening, for which he became famous. The English cleric is one of the most prominent religious figures ever to visit Knox County, and his days in East Knox County have been remembered for generations in the names of streets, cemeteries, and churches.